- Associated Press - Monday, August 29, 2016

BEDFORD, Texas (AP) - When Pam and Albert Rivera opened their hair salon in a building where the children and grandchildren of freed slaves were once educated, they wanted to do all they could to preserve the past.

The Riveras own the former one-room Mosier Valley school building where generations of children learned the basics of reading, writing and math when they weren’t helping plant corn or pick cotton on their parents’ farms in the once-thriving Mosier Valley community, tucked among Fort Worth, Euless and Arlington.

The Riveras have owned the property since 2005, and the former schoolhouse and the Bobo house, one of the oldest homes in Bedford, make up their Studio 2020 salon.

“There is a real sense of stewardship here,” Pam Rivera told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (https://bit.ly/2bdLxjN), referring to the school building and its history.

“I am always very much at peace here. I’m humble and proud at the same time. I am humbled by what this building represents, which is (that) educating our young and making them literate is one of the most important things we can do; it enriches all of our lives.”

When the Riveras purchased the building more than 10 years ago, they didn’t want to change its design. The doors and windows are in the same places as when the building was a school. Some of the original flooring is left, and some of the original shiplap wood is still intact.

Pam Rivera recalled how James Welch, the previous owner, and her husband loved restoring old pickups. When it came time to buy the property, Welch let Albert Rivera restore a 1954 Ford pickup in lieu of a down payment.

Turning the former school into a hair salon is the latest chapter in a journey that began when the school was built in 1924 to educate black children during the Jim Crow era, before integration came about in the 1960s.

The school and the community church were the center of life in Mosier Valley and other black communities, said Brenda Sanders-Wise, executive director of the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society.

“We feel like people forget about these communities, and it’s historic to us. However, I am so thankful that someone knows the value and the importance of the structure and the importance of education,” she said.

Plans are now in the works to build a 4-acre park on the site of the former school in Fort Worth.

Mosier Valley was one of the first all-black settlements in Texas, founded by freed slaves Dilsie and Robert Johnson and other families in the 1870s.

A farming community, Mosier Valley saw its population peak at around 300 in the 1930s.

The wooden schoolhouse was built in 1924 and remained open until 1953, when it was replaced by a brick school, built under orders from the superintendent of the Euless school district after parents from Mosier Valley sued in federal court and a judge ruled that the children were to be educated in their home district.

The brick school was closed in 1968, when the children were integrated in to the H-E-B schools.

At the wooden schoolhouse, students had to use an outhouse, and the only heat was from a stove. There were desks and blackboards along with books, a phonograph and maps, said Sabra Doggett, a retired teacher and administrator in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district who recalls teaching children from Mosier Valley. She and her late husband, Gordon, moved the building from a field along Texas 10 to what was then their property in May 1984.

When the Doggetts first spotted the school building while driving along Texas 10, it was being used to store hay and was in bad disrepair.

“I saw this building and remarked that this looks like an old school,” Doggett recalled.

The old building piqued her husband’s curiosity.

“We went tromping across the field, and my husband found out who owned the property,” she said.

“The building was in really bad shape; no one thought it was worth saving. The owners said that if we wanted to try to save that old thing, we could have it,” Doggett said.

At the time, the Doggetts were young schoolteachers and were in graduate school. It cost $4,930 to move the building to their property.

The Doggetts faced hurdles in Bedford, where city ordinances called for brick buildings, but they persevered and restored the old school, using colors from the time period. By the time they bought it, the former one room had been divided into several rooms.

Doggett - who worked for a time with the late Vada Johnson, the first African-American teacher in H-E-B schools who also taught children in the one-room schoolhouse - said that her husband persuaded his professor to let him write about the history of black schools and that the Mosier Valley school was likely built as part of the Rosenwald rural school building program.

Julius Rosenwald was a philanthropist, and by 1932, when the program ended, there were 4,977 schools, and 217 teachers homes in 15 states, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Doggetts ran a school-supply store for teachers called The Magic Slate. As they became H-E-B school district administrators and their responsibilities grew, they decided to sell the property in the 1990s to Welch, who was a builder. He used the building as his office.

During the 1990s, the Riveras leased the building for their salon and kept hoping that they could one day own the property. They got their wish in 2005.

Now, Fort Worth is planning to build a 4-acre park on the former site of the school building. The master plan calls for pavilions, trees, historical exhibits, a crop demonstration garden and a future school building.

Sanders-Wise hopes that someday the wooden schoolhouse will be returned to its roots.

“When the couple retires, I hope they will give it back,” she said. “But we have the park.”


Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, https://www.star-telegram.com

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